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Trump Ordered Hold On Ukraine Aid; Trump Speaks at U.N. This Morning; Did FAA Mislead Congress on 737 MAX?. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, the president himself ordered a hold on military aid to Ukraine days before speaking to Ukrainian president. House Democrats meet behind closed doors as calls for impeachment grow.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: With Iran topping the agenda, the president speaks at the U.N. this morning. Is there a path to diplomacy?

ROMANS: And did the FAA mislead Congress on training for Boeing 737 MAX? Investigators say inspectors were underqualified.

CNN live this morning in Tehran, Jerusalem, London and South Africa.

Welcome, everyone. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs, Tuesday, September 24th. It is 4:00 a.m. here in New York.

We begin with breaking news overnight, the strongest suggest yet President Trump may have had political motives when he spoke with Ukraine's president and pressured him to investigate Joe Biden's son. Now, we could been the verge of a very big move on impeachment by House Democrats.

CNN learning President Trump ordered a hold on $400 million in military aid to Ukraine just days before a late July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky. "The Washington Post" first to report this.

ROMANS: A senior administration official says the president was mainly concerned about corruption and pushing Europe to shoulder more of the financial burden for Ukraine's defense. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy who met Zelensky in Ukraine this month says he was concerned the aid was being cut as a consequence for not launching a probe of the Bidens.

Monday, the president kept up the drumbeat, accusing Biden and his son Hunter of wrongdoing without offering any proof.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe Biden and his son are corrupt. If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they'd be getting the electric chair by right now.


ROMANS: Trump did not specify what Biden said or did. Senate Republicans, meantime, offering a variety of responses to these developments.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It is regrettable that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff and Senator Schumer have chosen to politicize the issue.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): I would like to have the whistleblower come and talk to me so we know what his story is. I don't want to hear it second hand.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I believe that President Trump is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and transparent about this phone call, because I think he did nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): The bottom line is I don't think he should have done it but that's a far cry from what some people around here are claiming to know as fact that frankly we don't know as fact.


BRIGGS: House Democrats will discuss the investigations in a members- only meeting this afternoon. Some of them telling us the caucus is reaching a, quote, tipping point as the administration blocks the release of a whistleblower's complaint over the Ukraine call. At least 138 Democrats have now declared they are in favor of an impeachment probe. That number quickly rising as moderate there's new openness to moving on impeachment.

During a flight from New York to Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote an op-ed signed by seven freshman Democrats from, key here, swing districts who make the case for impeachment.

ROMANS: The speaker sharpened her rhetoric over the weekend. In a "Washington Post" report, she's quietly checking with House Democrats about whether to impeach the president. In a brief and slight interview with CNN, Pelosi left little doubt the whistleblower complaint has dramatically escalated the standoff and a move toward impeachment proceedings is all but certain. She said, we'll have no choice.

At the White House, sources tell CNN officials are considering whether to release a transcript of Mr. Trump's call with the Ukrainian president. Some senior officials oppose the idea because of the precedent it could set, for example, giving Congress ammunition to demand transcripts of president's calls, for example, with Vladimir Putin.

President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky set to meet at the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow.


President Trump's Ukraine whistleblower scandal is overshadowing the U.N. General Assembly. The president will be the second to speak today and was asked to preview his speech. He said he would talk about Iran and the economy, but declined to say whether he would ramp up pressure on Iran during his speech.

Trump has stuck to the teleprompter in previous addresses and notably drew laughter from delegates last year while praising his own administration. Also last year, he shocked the visiting Chinese foreign minister by accusing Beijing in interfering in U.S. elections while both men sat at the Security Council table.

BRIGGS: Iran's foreign minister says Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would not meet with President Trump on the sidelines of the general assembly.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen live for us in Tehran.

Fred, where do we go from here?


Well, look, there's a lot of tension between the U.S. and Iran. There's an Iranian missile system that shot down a U.S. drone three months ago. Of course, that's one of the reasons why the tensions between Iran and United States are so high at this point in time and why those two countries have been on the brink of war for such an extended period of time and why this session at the UNGA is going to be so very important.

Now, the U.S. is getting some political and diplomat you can backing from key allies. Germany and France and the U.K. came out and said they believe Iran was responsible for the attacks on the two Saudi oil facilities that, of course, took place a couple of weeks ago. Then, in turn, Iran's foreign minister, who's also in New York, he blasted those three U.S. allies saying they are the ones that need to return to the terms of the nuclear agreement and there would be no talks or agreement unless all parties abide by the nuclear deal, which obviously the Iranians are saying the U.S. isn't doing because it pulled out of the deal.

However, there might be a little bit of a way for a diplomatic inroad. Iran's foreign minister in an interview with our own Christiane Amanpour said that there might be terms they might be willing to go back to the negotiating table if they get permanent sanctions relief and in turn allow inspections permanently of the nuclear facilities.

Here's what had had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We are prepared if President Trump is serious about permanent for permanent -- permanent, peaceful nuclear program in Iran and permanent monitoring of the Iranian nuclear facilities in return for what he said he's prepared to do and that's to go to Congress and have this ratified, which would mean Congress lifting the sanction.


PLEITGEN: And, of course, President Trump set to speak a UNGA a little bit later today. He himself has said a lot of that will be about Iran and, of course, both sides, as you mentioned, saying, they are not going to talk directly to one another as things stand right now, Dave.

BRIGGS: Some glimmer of hope, though. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Iran this morning, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Some mystery and drama in the U.S. and China trade war. On Friday, a Chinese delegation cancelled its trip to visit American farmers dampening hopes for breakthrough. And then yesterday, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin revealed it was the U.S. that had asked the Chinese to delay the trip. That seemed to come as a surprise to President Trump.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: They have started buying agriculture. They're going to reschedule that at a different time. The timing didn't work. But that was -- that was purely in our request.

DONALD TRUMP: Why was that our request, just out of curiosity?

MNUCHIN: We didn't want confusion around the trade issues.

TRUMP: Yes, but I want them to buy farm products.

MNUCHIN: There was no confusion. We want them to buy agriculture. They've committed to buy agriculture.


ROMANS: According to the Department of Agriculture, Chinese importers have bought at least 720,000 tons of soybeans over the past two weeks.

Farmers, of course, have been hurt by the ongoing trade war. Business Insider reports aid to farmers has reached $28 billion over the past two years, a little more than double what the Obama administration paid to bail out automakers. Look at that, the bailout to farmers bigger than that much aligned auto bailout in the financial crisis. A Treasury spokesperson did not immediately comment on that exchange Monday between the president and the treasury secretary. BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, independent investigators say the FAA misled Congress on inspector training for the now grounded Boeing 737 MAX plane.

"The Washington Post" reports the office of special counsel, a government watchdog agency that investigates whistleblower complaints found inspectors performing safety assessments on the 737 MAX were, quote, underqualified. A revelation compounds questions about safety oversight at the FAA which has come under scrutiny after two 737 MAX jets crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people. The FAA says it is reviewing the special counsel's findings, but remains confident in what it told Congress.

ROMANS: A soldier now in custody accused of suggesting the use of a vehicle bomb against a major news network, which sources say was CNN. Twenty-four years old Army Specialist Jarrett William Smith was stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas before his arrest Saturday.


Court documents say he told an FBI informant about a month ago he was looking for more right wing radicals like himself. Prosecutors say he offered to teach others how to build bombs that he wanted to kill members of the left wing Antifa movement, and he named Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke as another possible target. His attorney did not return our request for comment.

BRIGGS: Yikes.

All right. Ahead, allies turned rivals could be allies again. Unity talks underway following razor thin elections. CNN live in Jerusalem, ahead.



ROMANS: The two top vote-getters in last week's Israeli elections have agreed to try to form a unity government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz met last night at the president's residence in Jerusalem.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem with the latest -- Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, this is really at the initiative of Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin. He says it's clear that the Israeli people voted for a unity government and that's what he's going to try to force essentially here and try to avoid a third election. So, he hosted Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to begin to try to put momentum behind this effort.

Negotiating teams from the two leaders will meet today to try to keep this effort going, but at this point, this is not clear this really leads anywhere. Why not? Well, neither Gantz nor Netanyahu have shown a willingness to give any ground. Gantz refuses to sit under a prime minister who is under criminal investigation. And Netanyahu, while he talks about being willing to negotiate without preconditions, has put himself in charge of a bloc of religious and religious Zionist parties that bring conditions of their own and neither side has shown a willingness to give any ground on what they see as their red lines.

Meanwhile, Rivlin has indicated that he'd be willing to host Netanyahu and Gantz again, perhaps later this week to see if there's any progress made. Even if this is a difficult process, he wants to keep that process going as long as he can.

As for the key question of who is it here who gets the first crack at forming a government, is it Netanyahu or is it Gantz? Well, Rivlin has until next Wednesday to make that decision and it seems he may take every moment he can to try to force Netanyahu and Gantz to see if they can work something out here -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem, thanks for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a school resource officer arrested not one but two kids in Florida. Now that officer is out of a job.



BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, a strong magnitude 6.0 earthquake strikes off the coast of Puerto Rico. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake hit some 50 miles north, northwest of Isabela, Puerto Rico, late last night. At least three aftershocks have followed, including a magnitude 4.7. Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez says in a tweet, there have been no reports of damage to the island.

ROMANS: Making matters worse, Tropical Depression Karen threatening to soak much of Puerto Rico. Schools are closed there today.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine and Dave, good morning, guys.

Yes, this tropical depression here, really the best-case scenario as you're going to get with a named storm across the Caribbean for this time of year. It will be north at 8 miles per hour. We think land potentially strengthening as it approaches the island as a tropical storm for landfall some time early this afternoon. Really the big story with this is not going to be the winds, but mainly the rainfall on the mountainous island potentially as much as one to three inches widespread across the southern and central regions.

But beyond this, we watch this particular model here because it will want to take it to the north very gradually, potentially by late next week, a western shift. So, we'll watch this carefully to see how things play out.

But, of course, you got to keep in mind, this cone essentially means it could go all the way to the north and east or all the way to the best, any of this region is fair game based on kind of the recent model runs across that region. But here we go across the national perspective, how about another round of unseasonably warm weather?

Some severe weather to be had as well across portions of the Upper Midwest. Des Moines in particular an enhanced risk for damaging winds and large hail as well, and the risk for that forecast. Temperatures today ranging from 67 up in Buffalo, all the way down to about 93 degrees across the New Orleans area -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Pedram, thank you so much for that.

An Orlando elementary school resource officer has been fired after arresting, arresting two 6-year-olds in separate incidents. Orlando's police chief says he tried to give the officer the benefit of reviewing paperwork and statements, but it became clear this was no choice but to terminate hum.


ORLANDO ROLON, ORLANDO POLICE CHIEF: We were all appalled. We could not fathom the idea of a 6-year-old being put in the back of a police car and to be honest with you, it's still shocking to us.


ROMANS: Now, the police chief's says the officer's actions put the trust between police and the community in jeopardy. He says an investigation is still ongoing.

BRIGGS: A dramatic rescue after a train tragedy in New York City. Video shows Good Samaritans coming to the rescue of a 5-year-old girl after her father jumped to his death in front of an oncoming subway train while holding her. Incredibly the little girl was not hit by the train and managed to crawl out from under the subway car. The rush hour crowd and EMTs comforted the little girl before she was taken to the hospital. Police say she barely had a scratch on her.

ROMANS: What an awful scene. So glad she's OK.

Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

So, some cows walking into a bar, there's no punch line because this is not a joke. The Wisconsin brewery that makes Spotted Cow beer had a late night visit from 16 spotted cows.


The dairy cows walked into the parking lot of the New Glarus Brewing Company early Monday morning. And security guard and police corralled the cows with their cars until the owner came to pick up his herd. In case you're wondering, Spotted Cow is a farmhouse ale only sold in Wisconsin.

BRIGGS: Brilliant advertisement, though, if you can convince those cows. Yes.

ROMANS: Accidental advertising.

BRIGGS: Well done.

All right. House Democrats meet behind closed doors today. Calls for impeachment now growing in swing districts. Overnight, we learned the president himself ordered cuts to Ukraine's military aid. Did he have Joe Biden in mind?